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By Tara-Nicholle Nelson | Broker in San Francisco, CA

7 Ways to Rethink Your Underused Rooms

Image courtesy Houzz.comAs the Spring real estate season flourishes, and escrows close by the thousands, many home buyer’s fantasies of ownership become reality. For many, the house hunt is a quest for the the holy grail of more square footage. But the reality of home ownership is this: you furnish and decorate the spaces in your home according to their planned purpose (e.g., dining room, kitchen, bedroom, etc.) only to realize that you spend 80 percent of your time in 20 percent of your home’s square footage!

Most homeowners who have formal living and dining rooms rarely use them (Thanksgiving and Christmas are but two days of the year). Similarly, millions of square feet in great rooms, breakfast nooks, laundry rooms and hallways and even “spare” bedrooms go underused - space wasted most or all of the year.  

Sometimes this is simply a sign that you have a really great kitchen or bedroom that you love - and love to be in.  But it’s often an indicator that there might be a little disconnect between your everyday life and the way you’ve chosen to configure your home.  In either case, given the cost of those precious square feet, it is a worthwhile endeavor to do what you can to make as many of them as lovable and livable as possible!

There is a cure for the scourge of wasted space:  rethinking your rooms. The fact that a room is called a dining room or a breakfast area does not mean that’s the only function you can do there. In fact, I propose that buyers and owners alike might want to spend some time this Spring rethinking and rearranging your rooms to live to the very edges of your precious square footage. Here are a few ideas for repurposing your underused spaces at home:

1.  Too-small bedroom into closet or extra bathroom.  If you have a bedroom so tiny that it’s barely usable as such, and only when the occasional guest rolls into town, consider getting a sleeper sofa or making friends with a concierge at the hotel down town and converting the little bedroom into an amazing closet. I did this at my last home - simply opened up the wall between the small room and the master, inserted floor to ceiling closet doors and called in a closet organizing company to help trick my new closet out with shoe racks, sweater shelves, rods at varying heights and drawers.  

Best. Closet. Ever.  And to boot, I no longer found myself griping about the unusable little room!

If you have a little more money to invest and could use an extra bathroom, a too-small bedroom makes for a good, efficient bathroom - especially if it’s located next to another bathroom, so the plumbing already exists.

2.  Wide hallway or under-stairs space into study or storage areas.  You might be thinking: “Are you nuts lady?  I don’t have any “extra” rooms!”  Even if every proper room in your home is spoken for and being used, you might still be able to find underutilized areas and spaces in your home that you can arrange more efficiently and squeeze maximum use out of those square feet.  Common culprits are very wide hallways and spaces under the stairs, both of which make excellent spaces for custom built-in storage cabinets or desks.  Need some inspiration?  Visit online home design wonderland Houzz, where there’s a whole category for under-stair design ideas and pics from real homes.

3.  Dining room into office or game room.  Probably the number one room conversion I hear homeowners consider is the change of a formal dining room into an office. Think about it - you might use the dining room a couple of days a year - a couple of weeks, max, if you are an avid entertainer or dinner party host.  But these days, many people work at home, at least part of the time, and running a household is a job of its own, generating papers, files and bills galore. Kids also need a study area for homework and school projects.  

Now, with wifi and laptops, all these work and study activities can happen anywhere in a home.  But many families find their best case scenario is to have one room with well-arranged desks, lighting, seating, monitors and office supplies, where one or many family members can contain their work and study activities and clutter. This promotes balance and calm in the rest of the home and minimizes distractions to boost focus.

4.  Breakfast nook into computer or bill-paying area.  There’s something very sweet and romantic about the notion of a breakfast nook. But if you’re fortunate enough to have a nook and an eat-in kitchen island or other casual dining area, you might find yourself using the nook more for organizing the family calendars and paying the bills than for eating.  If this is how things go for you, it might make sense to lean on into what you’re already using this space for and optimize it by bringing organization and storage solutions to the area to cut clutter and make even your bill paying a bit more enjoyable.  

Consider installing a bulletin or chalk board, a table with a drawer in which you can stash your laptop and ensure you have drawer storage for your files, checkbook, pens or other objects you need to handle the family business.  

5.  Too-large great room into living, dining, study and play area.
 A surprising number of homeowners with great rooms find that they furnish these massive, vaulted rooms beautifully upon moving in, never to enter more than a corner of the space again.  A great room presents the perfect opportunity to carve out and repurpose the space you have in a way that aligns with the activities your family actually does on a regular basis.  If you have a great room, but no casual dining space, why not make the area nearest to the kitchen into a breakfast nook-inspired dining area - there are scads of bar-height tables and stools on the market for precisely this purpose.  No spare room for an office?  Consider setting up a desk, chair and lamps or whatever other office area equipment your family needs in one segment of the great room.

And there’s absolutely no reason you can’t use furniture and carpets to turn your great room into more of a multipurpose room, strategically laying things out and arranging furnishings to host your family’s living, dining, study and recreation areas all within four walls.

6.  Basement or laundry room into mudroom or pet grooming area.  Many people think “underused space” and what instantly comes to mind is the basement. Basements have been finished with sheet rock, painted, carpeted and turned into living areas as long as human beings have been into home improvement. But here’s the rub: in many parts of the country, older homes were built over raised basements because the builders knew the lower areas were susceptible to flooding in the rain or snow.  In such areas and cases, it might not make sense to finish the basement with carpet and other things that will be ruined if they get wet.

That said, basements often have entry doors to the exterior of the home, and many have plumbing.  This makes them the ideal site for a tiled mudroom, with racks and shelves for family members to stash their muddy, wet shoes, coats, umbrellas and even sports gear - and a sink or other area where they can clean up a bit so as not to track their wintry messes upstairs.  Same goes for oversized laundry rooms that were built in the days before full-sized stacking, front-loaders were even a possibility - if you have oodles of extra laundry room space, rethink it into a mudroom/laundry room combo.

If you live in an area with mild winters, but you have canine family members, the very features which make basements and laundry rooms great mudrooms render them prime sports for installing a pet bath or shower area.

7.  Formal living room into library.  Are you a book junkie? It’s relatively harmless, as vices go, with one exception: it can be excessively space consuming.  By this I mean, it can be excessively clutter-creating, if you don’t get a handle on it.  If you have a formal living or dining room that is simply not being used, consider lining the walls with bookshelves - bought or built in - and converting the space into a library. Comfortable, well-lit seating and a desk or writing area will finish the room off.  

If books don’t float your boat or you have switched entirely over to e-reading, this same model can be applied to any space-sucking collection that you spend more time enjoying than you spend in your formal living or dining room.

P.S.: For a step-by-step room rethink plan, and many inspirational photos check out the book Right-Sizing Your Home: Make Your House Fit Your Lifestyle, by Gale Stevens.

Have you ever repurposed a room?  What was it before, and what did you do with it?  Were you happy with the results?  Please share!


By mmcs,  Wed Apr 24 2013, 15:27
A picture (or 7) could have saved a 1000 words ... nice ideas but how about some photos!
By Susan Strain,  Wed Apr 24 2013, 15:27
Some good idea, not usually addressed
Susan Strain
By Naptastik,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 10:10
Agree with mmcs- needs pictures!!!!
By Valerie Evans,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 10:47
agree photos next time
By Kathleen Ricketts,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 10:51
By Ashley,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 10:51
By Jcornetta,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 11:16
Click on the picture and it will give you more photo's
By Jcornetta,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 11:18
Click on the photo and you will get more photo's.
By Franklin Blevins,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 11:19
They are ideas. What do you want the author to do? Draw pictures? Google the ideas and you will get plenty of pictures.

There is also 1-800-waa-aaaa
By Staging Places Southampton,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 11:27
I took the sliding doors off my double closet in our guest room, painted the walls a different color from the room, installed custom book shelves with cool Tibetan accents and a Ralph Lauren black woven and bamboo framed bureau ..I added 2 petite brass wall sconces topped with red shantung china man hat shades, right and left of the entrance, controlled by a dimmer switch.
This transformed the space into a tiny study lined with my favorite books , additional storage for guests and a private nook for cool treasures. The clothing I removed went into a vinyl storage wardrobe in another room suited for seasonal clothing not in use.... Yes , I agree about photos speaking volumes.:)
By jacksprat001,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 11:30
If you're too lazy to click the picture and follow it to a series of other photos that illustrate the concept, you're probably too lazy to do the work....
By Sue Raatz,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 12:00
I did turn a small bedroom into an "amazing closet" where the ironing borad could be left set up next to one of those rolling wardrobes. I also set up a make up table and mirrors for my hair. So now hubby can't complain about leaving things out in the bathroom. I've also thought of using the dining room as a 'game room' and dining room by putting a pool table there instead of a dining room table. The pool table can be covered with a piece of plywood, table pad and cloth for holiday dinners (3x/year!). I just can't seem to take the play space away from my dogs in the winter. Another good use for an empty dining area.
By Sue Raatz,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 12:03
Forgot to mention, we use the area under the stairs for a kitty litter box and cleaning products storage an shelves.
By deboramoore,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 12:29
We turned our formal dining room into a home gym. Best idea ever!
By Janice Kalliavas,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 12:53
I turned an extra small bedroom into a closet. I installed rods and drawers on one wall, I have a desk for my sewing machine in front of the window and opposite that I have a vanity with a large wall mirror and lights on the wall above. It's perfect for getting ready all in one place. We also converted the main bedroom on the first floor into an office. Removed the closet doors and my husband built shelves for all my craft supplies. We bought a corner unit with shelves, desk and file drawers. I love my office!
By Cali ~ Chris Cali Beyma,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 13:03
I repurpose rooms all the time now that I've been forced to condense my living space. Currently, the family room adjoining the kitchen is my office. My furniture was too large for any of the other rooms and now I am in the hub of things - not isolated!
By Walt Young,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 13:08
Not a new idea in the entire list. Sad -- I'd really hoped for something helpful.
By Bean_counter_100,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 13:13
I have a small bedroom next to my too-small kitchen. I hope to remove the wall, re-arrange a bit, and have a new much bigger kitchen. Haven't had the contractor out yet, but I am hoping this idea will be something I can afford to do.
By Bill Michaels,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 13:20
I can't help but wonder-- when it comes time to do the staging when listing the home-- how many of these "tips" are you going to tell me to un-do?
By peachofmd,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 13:45
Yes some pictures would have helped to see the ideas better.
By Carla,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 13:49
Converted area in basement to my own personal salon. That way stylist can come to me to.
By Natalie Ahrens,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 13:49
I used the formal dining as a game room. Put a pool table which fit perfect with enough room to shoot. The placement of the formal dining by the living area made great entertainment when guests came by.
By Sue Raatz,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 13:57
Mr. Bean Counter, if you can't afford the remodel, why not just turn that bedroom next to the kitchen into a pantry? You could also install cabinents (or free standing ones) yourself and maybe some countertops or for the interim some freestanding tables for more work space. Just a thought.
By Michele Goetz,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 14:06
We turned our formal dining room into a game room by putting a pool table in there. We kept out "bar" type decorating and opted for keeping the chandelier and putting up nice art on the walls and stool seating. We throw balls on the table if there are a few minutes between activities, have family games, and it is a hang out area with company. Best use of space ever.

The living room we converted into a library/office. It is comfortable, casual, but still a bit more formal than our family room. I don't have to feel like I'm in an office when working from home (which is about 50% of the time). And it is still a good place to hang out with friends when they come over because it is across from the now pool table room. It is also large enough with lots of light so I don't feel like I'm in a cramped dungeon.

My husband uses a spare bedroom as an office.

Making these changes wasn't about square footage, it was about making the rooms work for the things we cared about. Being formal and stuffy was not one of them.
By tamaralynn_j,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 14:09
extra room? This is something that only shows up in my dreams!
By Nora,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 14:26
We use our dining room for every meal. Also, our parents are getting older, and someone needs to host Thanksgiving. Why do people keep saying nobody uses a dining room?
By Kathleen Meyers,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 14:47
We have an extra room uptairs right above the kitchen that has no closet and the radiator has been permanently turned off. We decided it would make a great pantry and so we bought shelving and went ahead with the conversion. We're very happy with our decision and who says a pantry has to be in the kitchen or next to it!
By Szsicard,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 14:54
I know in our area if you delete a bedroom you are sucking value out of your home. Two bedrooms just don't sell for the price of three bedrooms no matter how nice the closets are.
By Shirley Ganske,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 15:04
I turned my formal lining room into a studio for my sewing and craft design pursuits. A lot of friends have done similar re-purposing to create a sewing nook somewhere in their home. I used all modular furniture so the room easily goes back to formal, but, you know, I'm the one who lives here and I don't really care if having a sewing area in the front room suits anyone else, it suits me! It was completely useless space before.
By Ellen Johnston,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 15:13
I agree with Szsicard. These ideas are wonderful until you want to sell your home. Then the brokers tell you that your use of the space is confusing to the buyers. Next thing you know you are spending money to turn the room back into it's original intended use.
By Sue Raatz,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 15:16
Szsicard, yes, I've heard that too. However, as long as you don't knock down the wall or remove the closet, it's still technically a bedroom despite what you use the space for. The value should not change.
By FL REAL ESTATE BROKER,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 15:51
By Mom,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 16:12
All these ideas are great, especially coming from a realty site. As mentioned already, when it's time to Sell all the realtor wants, is to have the rooms put back to their originally intended use. Repurposing rooms is a great idea, why should buyers be shown a home with a 10 x 10 dining room when we had repurposed the old family room into our Wonderful new large dining room, The old dining room into a great Office. WHY must we change it all back to the original design of the house, when this flows So much better this way? ps, we have a Large bonus room upstairs too, which we use as our Family room! We are in SoCAl
By Morgan,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 17:07
We turned the dining room into a downstairs bedroom when my elderly mother could no longer climb the stairs. Her favorite furniture, photos of children and grandchildren on the walls, and a clothes rack for a closet made it her own space and she was able to stay in her beloved home instead of moving or entering a nursing home.
By Michelle,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 17:15
We live in a 100 year old house with tiny closets. We turned our "sleeping porch" that is not heated into a large walk-in closet for my husband and I. We bought to large stand alone wardrobes from Lowe's, moved in 2 dressers and my make-up vanity. It really freed up our small bedroom from clutter and now we aren't waking each other up getting ready for work ( we work opposite shifts). It also freed up the closet from our spare room for our new baby's stuff.
By Bullmoose,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 17:53
Converted attic space into great cedar closet
By Pharrc,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 18:16
There are endless uses for bookcases of all sizes. I put two 6 ft tall bookcases side by side between the wall and the head of my double/full bed. Books seldom used on bottom , knick knacks on upper shelves that can be seen. Looks great and only takes up 9 inches additional depth space. It was a god send for a small bedroom with very little storage room.
By Susan Beaty,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 18:24
click on the picture and it takes you to HOUZZ...... what more do you want:)
By Ann Graham,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 21:21
the upper floor of our recently purchased Queen Ann Victorian was unused. 650 sq feet of shag carpet and a half bath. Three huge dormers now house a full bath our king bed and my office vanity and coffee bar. On cold wintery days I don't even have to go downstairs.
By Gail Kohr,  Thu Apr 25 2013, 22:55
you have to click on the picture to see all the other pictures.......
By Ed01br,  Fri Apr 26 2013, 04:13
Good story, I became a maid's room in office closing the door on one side and open to the living room, a room in the game room games, room maid could have installed racks to food.
By Staging Places Southampton,  Fri Apr 26 2013, 05:24
Often when staging a house to sell, I'm okay with leaving a room empty ...this allows the potential buyer to imagine it in multiple ways.. a nanny's room, in-laws room, sewing room, maids room, kid's room etc. These houses have sold , so the formula has proven itself nicely... .I love the new ideas in the comments above!...and think we've all pretty much established that you can click on the photos in the article to see more :)))
By Rsfischermd,  Fri Apr 26 2013, 08:08
We use our too-small 1 car garage for a mud room/winter entrance.
However the main drawback is letting in all that cold air.

By Voices Member,  Fri Apr 26 2013, 13:26
This is great. I want to do this with my garage doors that I got from http://www.thegaragedoorcompany.ca/contact_us.html
By Linda Mckee,  Fri Apr 26 2013, 17:14
Did # 7 years ago, except left one wall completely blank and painted white. We made this our theatre wall with a projector, surround sound, etc. Picture is 12' wide and 8' tall, awesome!
By Michelle,  Fri Apr 26 2013, 22:46
Ever since we moved into our house about 4 months ago, I wanted to convert our "mini" master bath into a walk-thru closet - opening the wall into the smallest bedroom and turning that room into a real Master bath. I think that if we remove the doors on the his and her closets and open up that space, we could add additional width to our medium size master bedroom. Seeing the suggestions above have just encouraged me to convince my husband that this would be a great addition to our house - it would convert a 5 bedroom to a 4 bedroom with a WOW factor in the master bedroom with a nice walk thru closet and huge master bath! Thanks for the tips!!
By Barb Mihalik,  Sat Apr 27 2013, 04:59
It's amazing what you can do with paint, area rugs, drywall and lighting to turn unused spaces into really useful areas like libraries, offices, music rooms and closets. Many homeowners don't know how to make the best use of space and need help from a home stager who specializes in "use what you have" decorating without spending a lot of money. Many homes were built when lifestyles were completely different and no longer make sense for today's homeowners.
By June Constable,  Sat Apr 27 2013, 08:57
Showing "older homes" in the Ozarks on an older lake, is challenging because of the outdated rooms. Lots of my buyers will totally refurbish an older home that has a great lake view or lakefront (location, location). Using these ideas, I can now show homes with fresh ideas about what to do with a formal dining room (often too far from the kitchen anyway), or under stairs extra storage, or too small master suites with an adjoining smaller bedroom. Thank you so much !! Your posts are great. Come to Table Rock Lake to see these wonderful older homes with so many possibilities ! http://www.juneconstable.com
By Dgevans59,  Sat Apr 27 2013, 13:50
We had a sitting room off our bedroom and I made that the master bedroom and use the former master as an upstairs living room. Much better use Of space- I just wish I had thought of it when we had 3 teenagers in the house!
By Stephanie,  Sat Apr 27 2013, 16:20
All of these posts are great. I'm happy that I was able to see them before I closed on my second home. We have great space here, with three bedrooms and two and a half baths, in which I have turned one of the bedrooms into an office since the kids are gone. The new home has an additional bedroom that my mother will occupy when she comes to visit. There is one large room upstairs that is a bedroom that will become my office and family room. I have thought about how to utilize this space before we went to contract on this property. I know it will be a great move.
By Stephanie,  Sat Apr 27 2013, 16:21
Thanks for the updates. Please contact me with additional information that helps us home buyers
By Wyldeflowre,  Sun Apr 28 2013, 06:17
Thanks for a great article; I'm doing under the stairs first!
By Jay Taylor,  Sun Apr 28 2013, 23:16
Great Post!! Well I also have some under-used rooms. This article can help me to renovate my house and make every room to contribute in the whole beauty.

By Anna Fernandez,  Mon Apr 29 2013, 12:32
Great tips. Thank you...
By Anna Fernandez,  Mon Apr 29 2013, 12:33
Great tips . Thank you..
By Karen Miller,  Mon Apr 29 2013, 14:17
We were house shopping and found a mid century home with a bomb shelter in the basement. My husband began swooning. Being hedonists rather than survivalists he was already imagining a wine cellar.
By Shnwnslw,  Fri May 3 2013, 03:46
I like the pet grooming area idea. When I get my half bath/laundry room converted I will post pictures. We dont need the third bathroom and with 4 dogs to groom the idea will pay off.
By Robert Paquette, CBR,  Fri May 3 2013, 07:58
Honestly, I'm not so sure about any of these suggestions. A bit too far out of the box. Sorry, but thanks for the effort.
By Robert & Pauline Lewis,  Mon May 6 2013, 21:17
pl@HOME! - I think posting these ideas is GREAT! What may not work for some - may very well work for others! I can not see any reason why anyone would worry about the " value " changing when your intention is to make your house a home and live comfortably - keep the ideas coming as I'll be checking in weekly !!!!!!!!!!
By Toby Crabtreee,  Wed May 8 2013, 00:03
Great tips shared! Thanks a lot for sharing these points.
By Sebastien Ouvrard,  Thu May 9 2013, 00:39
My husband began swooning. Being hedonists rather than survivalists he was already imagining a wine cellar.http://www.rctophobby.com/fr/rc-helicopteres/achete-par-marque/walkera.html
By Mark Acantilado,  Thu May 9 2013, 01:18
With our underused rooms at home, we have turned it into our music room, and the other room a movie room where we watch movies as a whole family. It is actually worth the effort to redo unused rooms [since we do not have much guests in a year] and it helps in increasing home value through the years

Mark | http://www.agentcampus.com/
By Voices Member,  Mon May 13 2013, 14:16
This article would be roughly 100xs better if there were more pictures...

By Bill Raymond,  Mon May 13 2013, 23:32
Read the comments before another asks for pictures.
By Ryan7geoff,  Thu May 23 2013, 00:54
Great discussion i really appreciate such points keep going.
Add: http://chexsystemsremovals.com
By Djuwarsjah Linnus,  Sat Jun 1 2013, 08:42
Great ideas..I have plan to do renovation on my basement, I hope this article i can use as my inspiration..Keep Sharing..

By Sebastien Ouvrard,  Tue Jun 4 2013, 23:36
If you have a little more money to invest and could use an extra bathroom, a too-small bedroom makes for a good, efficient bathroom - especially if it’s located next to another bathroom, so the plumbing already exists. http://www.rctophobby.com/fr/rc-avions/achete-par-marque/top-rc-hobby-avions.html
By Costa Blanca,  Wed Aug 7 2013, 10:27
Thank you for the tips - how to use them next time I refurbish my Spanish villa on the Costa Blanca -
By karablader,  Tue Jun 17 2014, 08:32
I never thought about how much extra storage we could have if we used the space under our stairs. I really like the picture posted of the dresser that was placed underneath the stairs. That would make the area look classy instead of messy. I bet we could free up a lot of space if we did that.
Shelly Slader | http://www.selfstore.com.au/personal-storage.html
By blairwaldorf1873,  Wed Sep 10 2014, 18:36
I am currently downsizing in apartments. The only problem is that I have so much stuff! I have been wondering how I would make room for everything. I will keep these tips in mind while moving!

Tripp Vanderbilt | http://www.eastlakesselfstorage.net.au

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